TV: Is It Better To See People You Haven't Seen?

This season saw a ridiculous number of “three couples at different stages in their relationships” comedies. Most flopped. Ironically, the first and worst of these comedies, Rules of Engagement, may be the only one to make it to next season (though Happy Endings has a shot if it doesn’t drop too horribly at 10), and I’ve joked that the only logical option for next season is to have David Spade and Olivia Munn play two sets of triplets, all in relationships with each other at different stages.

I do like Better With You more than some of these, though I don’t care for the parts that are actually based on the tiresome premise (that couples get all bored with each other the longer they’ve been together). It showed steady improvement in other areas through most of the season, though. But the thing that stands out to me every time I watch it is that in a cast that mostly featured people who had been on sitcoms before, the clear standout was a guy named Jake Lacy, who had almost literally never done anything before he somehow got the part on this show. Everyone else is a familiar face, and two of the actors, Josh Cooke and Jennifer Finnegan, have done enough shows – including one together, the charming flop Committed – that they’re on their way to getting stuck with the dread “show-killer” label. But the actor with almost no experience steals most of the scenes, granted that sometimes there’s not a whole lot to steal. I don’t know if it’s because I’m not used to seeing him everywhere, or because his lack of experience has given him a slightly different rhythm from the many other good-looking young guys on sitcoms everywhere, but he’s the freshest part of a cast that often feels built out of spare parts from other shows.

This is where I would start to generalize and say that it’s good for a show to cast fresh and new faces. But no such generalization is possible. Let’s always remember that Seinfeld was a cast almost completely built out of spare parts. To surround Seinfeld, the network gave him three actors who had been bouncing from one flop show to another for a decade: Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Michael Richards all had longtime relationships with the networks and had all had regular roles in NBC failures. (Richards’ was Marblehead Manor, a show that was technically in syndication but ran on NBC affiliates.) Giving him that cast was a sign that the network didn’t attach much importance to the project and wasn’t going to use any of the people they considered hot, but it worked. Friends was another cast mostly constructed out of people who had been bouncing from show to show without quite hitting it big.

But it certainly can be fun to discover some new people on a TV show, or people who aren’t already TV show veterans. This doesn’t just mean casting people who are young and untried (a strategy which fails more often than it succeeds) but theatre people, or people who have mostly been doing guest work lately rather than landing continuing roles. I think one thing that appeals to people about Community‘s cast is that it’s a show where the cast doesn’t feel recycled from other shows: you’ve got a leading man the network was trying to find a sitcom for, a former movie star, a comic who had mostly worked in TV as a writer rather than an actor (Donald Glover) and other people who aren’t exactly new or inexperienced, but aren’t “hey, it’s that person from [fill in name of sitcom]” either. As Seinfeld and many other examples prove, just because someone has had parts on many other shows doesn’t mean he or she isn’t right for the new one; there’s just some enjoyment in seeing what a show can get out of new-ish people too.

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